What We Did On Our Summer Vacation: Hawaii

We just returned from 10 days in paradise (aka Hawaii and, more specifically, Honolulu).  Among other things, the kids took surfing lessons, we saw rainbows,

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we built sand castles,

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we visited the Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific),

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and we went on a Segway tour of Diamondhead with Marcus’s best friend and his family.

Segway tour

Segway tour

near Diamondhead

near Diamondhead

We also ate lovely meals (at Chef Mavro (more about that later), Town, Alan Wong’s, and The Pig and the Lady amongst others), and we had shave ice (at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha).
Oh, and the daughter worked on her college application essays.
Despite that unimportant detail, we had many days of relaxation and family time.  There is something special about Hawaii for us.  I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful scenery

sunset on Waikiki

sunset on Waikiki

Waikiki

Waikiki

or the friendliness of the people or something else, but we just feel at home there.  (Maybe it’s because having hapa kids there is no big deal—we get taken for locals all the time.)  All of our trips to Hawaii have been wonderful, but this one was amazing!

Restaurant review: The Pig and the Lady (Honolulu)

I’ve already called dibs on being the lady, but it is so very easy to be the pig at this delightful little restaurant, which is currently the hottest restaurant in Honolulu. The restaurant is located in the middle of Chinatown. Chinatown is perfectly safe and vibrant during the day. During the evening, it’s a little sketchier looking, but it is still perfectly safe. And The Pig and the Lady is well worth the effort.

It’s difficult to describe the cuisine accurately. To say that it’s Vietnamese fusion food only scratches the surface of what the kitchen is capable of. We went first for dinner and then tried it for lunch. You can’t go wrong with either meal, but the dinner menu is definitely the more innovative of the two.

We started dinner with a variety of small plates, called Piggy Smalls on the menu. There were savory beignets served with parmesan cream,

savory beignets

savory beignets

parmesan cream

parmesan cream

smoked eggplant served on puffed rice crackers, and

smoked eggplant

smoked eggplant

fried potatoes, along with a side of home-made pickles.

fried potatoes

fried potatoes

house made pickles

house made pickles

Out of the group, the savory beignets were our favorite, although everything was very good.

Entrees included their signature dish, which is pho French dip and Manila clams. This is a French dip banh mi served with a yuzu pho broth containing braised Manila clams and taro. You dip the banh mi in the broth to eat. The banh mi was delicious, although I’m not sure the clam broth wasn’t better. Either way, it was all fabulous!

pho & clam broth

pho & clam broth

We also split a braised lamb served bo kho style, which means a lamb shank cooked with southern Vietnamese spices and lemongrass, butter roasted carrots, pickled shallots, and herbs. I’m not sure which entrée was better—better not to have to choose!

braised lamb

braised lamb

Dessert consisted of kaya beignets, which are beignets dusted with coconut powdered sugar and a bit of espresso powder, and

dessert beignets

dessert beignets

P&L soft serve

P&L soft serve

P&L soft serve

Our waitress recommended that we try lunch, as the menu for lunch is slightly different. While lunch is a little more traditionally Vietnamese, it still offers the kitchen an opportunity to give its own individual twist to traditional dishes.

Jim had the pho French dip, which is a banh mi served with 12 hour roast brisket, thai basil chimmichurri, and a pho au jus. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

pho banh mi

pho banh mi

I had the pho-sta, consisting of hand cut pasta cooked with pho broth, parmesan, mung bean and other traditional pho flavors. Loved it!

pho-sta

pho-sta

The restaurant itself is an interesting mix of families, singles (mostly at the lively bar), and a smattering of food-obsessed tourists. Reservations are recommended if you don’t want to deal with a long wait. (It fills up quickly.) We highly highly recommend this restaurant!

The Pig and the Lady is found at 83 N. King Street in Honolulu (www.thepigandthelady.com).

 

Restaurant review: Chef Mavro, Take 2 (Honolulu)

For our second dinner at Chef Mavro, we went with the 4 course menu and added the parmesan black truffle risotto as a fifth course (yes, we do indeed live to eat).

The amouse bouche was once again the delicious watercress soup with “egg salad sandwich.”

watercress soup with "egg salad sandwich"

watercress soup with “egg salad sandwich”

We started off with the meli-melo, a salad containing hearts of palm, pickled hibiscus, avocado purée, and baby beets. I’m not a huge salad fan (I’m of the same philosophy as Ron Swanson, the character from “Parks and Rec” who says, “Salads are the food my food eats.”), but this was delicious.

meli melo

meli melo

We then had the snapper, served Asian style, with shitake mushrooms and ginger, topped with fried cilantro and green onion on basmati rice. While I liked the opah from the 6 course menu, this was fabulous (and better).

snapper

snapper

Our next course was the parmesan black truffle risotto, which was just as good as the first time we had it.

black truffle risotto

black truffle risotto

The entrée dish was duckling served with fennel and winter citrus and star anise duck jus. It was really wonderful.

duckling

duckling

confit

confit

(Jim substituted his duck for the lamb loin, served with cranberry preserve and sunchokes.) The bite I had was excellent.

lamb

lamb

And, after the palate cleansing melon in champagne gelée, we had the coconut déclinaison, which was a coconut pound cake served with coconut-shiso sorbet and a coconut sauce with basil seeds. This may not sound like it would work, but it most certainly did.

coconut déclinaison

coconut déclinaison

What we like about Chef Mavro is that not only is the food delicious, it is also beautifully presented. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the chef himself will make the rounds in the evening to chat. They were amazingly wonderful meals!

Chef Mavro is at 1969 S. King St, Honolulu (www.chefmavro.com).

Restaurant review: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

We have been regular diners at Chef Mavro whenever we are in Honolulu (which is more often than I am willing to admit). Last week, when we were there, we took the opportunity to dine at Chef Mavro twice. (I know, I know.)

The first time, we picked the 6 course menu. In addition, it was BLACK TRUFFLE season (calloo, callay!). So, this is what we had:

The amouse bouche was watercress soup with an “egg salad sandwich” on the side. It’s difficult to get watercress flavoring in a soup strong enough to taste like watercress, but this was the exception. It was delicious!

watercress soup with an "egg salad sandwich"

watercress soup with an “egg salad sandwich”

We started off with the foie gras, which was served as a parfait, accompanied by pineapple relish, toasted pine nuts, and a huge side of toasted brioche. Yummy!

foie gras terrine

foie gras terrine

Next up was the opah (snapper), which was served with red beets, pickled Japanese cucumber and topped with a coffee flour rye bread crumble. Highly delectable.

snapper

snapper

The lobster was next. This was accompanied by a house-made kabocha confit and served with kabocha and a crustacean essence purée. It’s one of Jim’s favorite dishes here.

lobster

lobster

We substituted out the cheese course in favor of the parmesan black truffle risotto. It was everything a black truffle risotto dish should be (which is to say heavenly).

black truffle risotto

black truffle risotto

We also upgraded to the Australian Tajima wagyu medallions, served with an eggplant purée, charred leeks, and an island green pepper corn sauce. Yum, yum, yum.

wagyu

wagyu

The palate cleanser was melon served in a champagne gelée.

melon in champagne gelee

melon in champagne gelee

And the final course, dessert, was chocolate. This time, it was a chocolate bar, served with a burgundy poached pear and sorbet. Even for not being a huge chocolate fan, this was delicious.

chocolate dessert

chocolate dessert

Ten Fabulous Days in Honolulu!

There’s not much more to be said about Hawaii that I haven’t already said, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. This trip was the first time the entire summer that all four of us were in the same geographical location. We stayed at the Halekulani and a wondrous time was had by all!

In addition to 10 days in paradise, we also were fortunate enough to have Yinan and her mother join us for a few days. It was great to see Yinan again and meet her mother. We really have missed her!

view from the Halekulani

view from the Halekulani

Other highlights of the trip include:

  • Surfing lessons for the kids
  • Segway tour up to Diamondhead (the boy, in particular, thought the Segway was amazing)
Amelia Earhart lookout

Amelia Earhart lookout

  • Helicopter tour of Oahu
view of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (oil is still leaking from the ship)

view of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (you can see the oil still leaking from the ship)

Oahu

Oahu

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  • Dinners at Chef Mavro, Nobu, Town, and Alan Wong’s
  • Shave ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha
the best (!) shave ice

the best (!) shave ice

We jammed a lot of other things in as well, but these were the high points. The only sad thing about our trip is that we had to come back!

Restaurant review: Nobu (Waikiki)

I am always amused by our Japanese friends who completely disclaim any relationship between Japanese cuisine and the restaurant (“Nobu isn’t a real Japanese restaurant”). Whatever the truth of the statement, it is an excellent restaurant, whether truly Japanese or not.

We went with some friends and three out of the four of us picked the omakase menu (chef’s choice). (As an aside, I absolutely love restaurants who don’t require the entire table to choose a tasting menu. It does lead to some bizarre timing issues for the kitchen and waitstaff and diners, but as long as you can live with that, it’s wonderful.)

Our first course was raw oysters and tuna tartare in a soy sauce-based marinade. Both were incredibly high quality and delicious.

oysters & tuna tartare

oysters & tuna tartare

Next was nigiri, consisting of (from left to right) toro, clam, white fish, and fried tofu with spicy tuna. The sushi was melt-in-your-mouth quality, which we have found only in Hawaii and Japan.

assorted nigiri

assorted nigiri

Next up, again from left to right, is red snapper (with a bit of chili powder), Hawaiian poke, and king salmon. My ranking from least to best is right to left, but all three were excellent.

assorted small dishes

assorted small dishes

The next dish was kampachi with onion sesame dressing. Kampachi is a Hawaiian white fish also known as almaco jack. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicate and matched perfectly with the dressing.

kampachi

kampachi

To clear our palates, we were then served a pineapple shiso sorbet. The sweetness of the pineapple was cut by the shiso, and the two flavors melded perfectly together.

pineapple-shiso sorbet

pineapple-shiso sorbet

Onto the cooked dishes: first up was lobster served with wasabi pepper sauce. The lobster had been removed from its shell, cooked, and returned to its shell with vegetables and the sauce. It was arguably the best dish of the night.

lobster with wasabi pepper sauce

lobster with wasabi pepper sauce

We then were served wagyu beef with foie gras and soy reduction marinade. Wagyu beef is the U.S. version of Kobe beef from Japan and while it is not quite as melt-in-your-mouth tender as Kobe beef (where the cows are given daily massages), it was still amazingly tender and flavorful. The foie gras added additional richness while the soy marinade gave the dish a bit of astringent balance.

wagyu beef

wagyu beef

The final non-dessert dish was a bowl of dashi cold noodles. I am not a cold noodle fan myself, but the dashi flavoring was excellent (and the only place I’ve ever found it as good has been Tokyo), and the noodles were surprisingly delicious.

cold noodles

cold noodles

Clearly, Nobu isn’t Japanese because it does a beautiful latte.  🙂

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And dessert (also very un-Japanese) was a maple crème brûlée. I was so stuffed by then that I only took a couple of bites, but it was very well done.

maple creme brulee

maple creme brulee

I will leave the argument as to whether Nobu is truly Japanese or not to those who care about such things. Whatever it is (or isn’t), Nobu is a truly excellent restaurant with delicious and beautifully presented food.

Nobu is located at Waikiki Parc Hotel, 2233 Helumoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96815 (www.noburestaurants.com/waikiki).

 

Restaurant review: A Tasting of Town

One of favorite restaurants in Honolulu is Town, a restaurant nestled in an interesting part of town with a hipster vibe and some of the best food on the island. The emphasis is on local and organic ingredients, and the kitchen’s passion for quality ingredients is equally reflected in the care of its cooking. Town doesn’t serve fussy food, but the dedication and talent in the kitchen is reflected well in the food that it serves.

We discovered a tasting menu being offered when we were there last week. Since we decided we were going to eat there twice in the week we were in Honolulu, we thought the tasting menu would be a good way to start the week.

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We started off with the bread and olives that Town serves all guests, followed by the amuse bouche.

bread  & olives

bread & olives

amuse bouche

amuse bouche

The tasting menu started off with what we thought was the best course of the evening—boudin blanc, baby carrots, red mizuna, and pickled onion. The tartness of the pickled onion went well with the more mellow flavors of the carrots and the richness of the boudin blanc.

boudin blanc

boudin blanc

Next up was pa’i’ai, butcher’s cut steak, broccoli, heirloom tomatoes, and oregano. This dish does not sound like it would work, but, somehow, the flavors meld together beautifully, and the steak is extremely flavorful and tender.

butcher's cut steak

butcher’s cut steak

The fish course was made up of uku, ulu, long beans, dandelion greens, onion, and preserved lemon aioli. I’m not a fan of dense white fish (such as swordfish), so the uku was not a favorite. That being said, the flavors worked well together, with the slight bitterness of the dandelion greens adding flavor to the fish.

uku

uku

One of Town’s strengths is its pasta. The hand-cut pappardelle, beef sugo, and parmigiano was excellent. The pappardelle had great texture, and the beef sugo was full of flavor.

beef sugo on pappardelle

beef sugo on pappardelle

The final entrée dish was house-cured ham, polenta, bitter greens, gribiche. This dish, I’m sorry to say, was a failure. The ham was excellent, but it was served thinly sliced, sandwich-style, which did not mesh well with the polenta and bitter greens. If they had done a whimsical ham sandwich, that might have worked. But the ham looked like it could have been served at a neighborhood deli (and while I like neighborhood delis, that is not what I’m looking for in a tasting menu at a restaurant). Bizarre.

house-cured ham

house-cured ham

Dessert was pineapple polenta upside-down cake. This was much better than I had expected, as I’m not a fan of polenta. But the polenta gave the cake a chewy texture, and the pineapple was sweet and flavorful.

pineapple upside down cake

pineapple upside down cake

All in all, we were glad that we tried the tasting menu, and we loved seeing what the chef thought were his strongest dishes. However, when we went back on Friday, we ordered off the normal menu and had a fabulous meal! 🙂

Town is located at 3435 Waialae Avenue #104, Honolulu, HI 96816 (www.townkaimuki.com).

 

Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

We had one of our favorite meals when we were in Honolulu at Chef Mavro. This is the second excellent meal we’ve had there (Jim and I were there in February and had an amazing meal then as well, which is, of course, documented on the blog).

We chose a modified summer menu, knowing that the full summer menu would be too much food and knowing that the kids were likely not to be enamored with the abalone and cheese courses. (Not having the cheese course didn’t exactly break my heart either.)

We started with an amuse bouche of chilled baby carrot soup, flavored with orange. The 12 year old boy wasn’t thrilled by this, as he’s not a fan of cold soups, but the rest of us slurped his portion down without a problem. The soup was delicately flavored, and the orange added a touch of sweetness and zing to the soup.

Carrot soup

Carrot soup

Foie gras was next on the menu, and it was served three ways: “au naturel” with pickled mango; seared with li hing mui mango tatin; and bavarois, with mango kanten. There was one vote for “au naturel,” two votes for the seared foie gras, and one vote for the bavarois. Even Jim, who doesn’t like mango, loved this dish.

foie gras 3 ways

foie gras 3 ways

The third course was lobster served with a chorizo taro dumpling, upcountry vegetables, and sautéed in tamarind-tapioca jus. The lobster was excellent, without the watery squishy texture you sometimes get, and it was cooked just right, so that it was tender and flavorful.

lobster

lobster

upcountry vegetables

upcountry vegetables

Duck was next on the menu. It was served with fried Bhutanese rice with black garlic, duck leg bacon, baby carrots, string beans, fennel, and star anise duck jus. I love duck and have high expectations about a duck dish, and this was prepared perfectly, so it was tender and flavorful.

duck

duck

fried bhutanese rice with black garlic

fried bhutanese rice with black garlic

The last meat dish was wagyu beef medallions, served with agave crisped Brussels sprouts, prosciutto, celery root mousse, and essence of pinot noir. There is no more flavorful and tender beef than Kobe beef from Japan, but wagyu beef is a close second, and these beef medallions were melt-in-your-mouth tender.

wagyu beef

wagyu beef

Our pre-dessert was watermelon in champagne gelée (and watermelon sorbet for the one allergic to alcohol). It was a lovely palate cleanser and light prelude to the dessert.

watermelon in champagne gelee

watermelon in champagne gelee

watermelon sorbet

watermelon sorbet

And the actual dessert consisted of chocolate: acai and Waialua chocolate cremeux, tuile crisp and buttermilk sorbet.

chocolate dessert

chocolate dessert

All in all, it was a fabulous meal that ensured our returning when we next visit Honolulu.

Chef Mavro is located at 1969 S. King Street in Honolulu (www.chefmavro.com).

 

Pandas…in a Submarine

Our daughter came up with the headline for this post, and it perfectly captures the highlights of our recent trip to China and Hawaii.

We started off in Beijing for a day or so, but, really, the focus of this trip was Chengdu and the Panda Breeding and Research Center. And the focus of the visit to the Panda Breeding and Research Center was to hold a real-live baby panda!

As you can see from the photos, the panda cub was about 10 months old and roughly 50 pounds. (Any bigger and the experience would be problematic, as pandas play rough.) The panda cub is eating bamboo coated with honey, which is in large part responsible for its mellow and beatific behavior. All of us wore booties over our shoes and giant blue smocks. The Center was great about time spent with the panda cub, with plenty of time to pet the panda (although we were instructed not to pet the face or ears) and the ability to take plenty of photos.

the family with a baby panda!

the family with a baby panda!

Jim with a baby panda

Jim with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Our daughter had the highlight of the visit, as the panda cub put his paw on her in apparent solidarity. The rest of us saw the resemblance between the two (fluffy, likes to eat and sleep, solitary) and understood why there was such a bond between them. 🙂

Jade with a baby panda

Jade with a baby panda

Meeting the panda cub was such a highlight that our stay in the Aman Hotel, with its secret door to the Summer Palace (my favorite place in Beijing) that allows you to visit the Summer Palace before opening hours was a distant second in trip highlights (a distant third if you count the Hawaii portion).

But, despite that, here’s the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace with NO people (unheard of in a city of 15 million people).

an empty Summer Palace

an empty Summer Palace

With respect to the Hawaii portion of our trip, thanks to a friend of ours who is a naval officer, we were able to tour the USS Olympia, a Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear-powered submarine. We weren’t able to take photos due to security concerns, but to be able to tour the sub was awesomely cool. We were obviously not allowed near the nuclear reactor or the engine room, but we toured the control room and the rest of the sub. For those who are wondering, there are five (!) bathrooms for the approximately 120 folks aboard the sub. The torpedoes are 4,000 pounds each and are transported to the torpedo tubes using a hydraulic system. It is an incredible feat of design and engineering. And submariners have to be a bit crazy—you certainly can’t mind small enclosed spaces, and you certainly have to be comfortable always being surrounded by people (introverts need not apply).

Added to that was an admiral boat’s tour of Pearl Harbor, surfing lessons every day for the kids, and shave ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (and meals at Town, Chef Mavro, and Alan Wong’s). Honolulu was pretty perfect.

All in all, a great addition to the family vacation memory book!

Chef Mavro

In our latest visit to Honolulu, we decided to dine at Chef Mavro, a restaurant we had dined at several years ago but had not revisited since.  The first time we ate there, it was a Valentine’s Day fixed menu, and we thought the dinner was good but not great.  However, we revised our opinion after our most recent dinner there.  It was clear that the Valentine’s Day menu of several years ago did not show off the breadth and skill of the kitchen.  Chef Mavro is indeed a spectacular restaurant.

It is black truffle season, and there was a choice of a 4 course, 6 course, or 11 course menu, with black truffles on certain dishes for an additional surcharge.  We picked the 6 course menu, with the addition of black truffles, of course.  (I have no doubt that our entire family were truffle-hunting pigs in a previous life.)

The amuse-bouche was hamachi (yellow tail) with just a touch of sea salt.  The quality of sushi in Hawaii is indescribable.  The only other time we’ve had sushi of this quality is in Japan.

amuse-bouche (hamachi)

amuse-bouche (hamachi)

The first course was a truffle egg, consisting of a poached egg with truffled “osmose”, potato mousseline and Serrano ham ribbons.  The eggs are stored in the empty truffle box, which infuses them with the wonderfully delicate aroma of black truffles.  And this wasn’t even one of the extra truffle courses!  This is a sublime dish, with the truffle aroma infusing every single bite of the dish.

truffled egg

truffled egg

Next up was the foie gras.  This is sautéed foie gras with a poached black mission fig, and a Portuguese sweet bread crouton.  There is never bad foie gras in my book, and this dish certainly fulfilled all the necessary foie gras requirements.  And, as you can plainly see, the foie gras is completely covered with delectable black truffles.

foie gras (with truffles)

foie gras (with truffles)

The third dish was a lemongrass accented lobster tail, served with island avocado, kahuku sweet corn, chipolata, and purple basil.  The richness of the lobster was offset by the slight acidity of the lemongrass, and the dish was beautifully served (with black truffles).

lobster (with black truffles)

lobster (with black truffles)

accompaniment to the lobster

accompaniment to the lobster

The meat dish was a roasted lamb loin accompanied by watercress with an aioli dip.  The lamb was perfectly prepared.  The watercress wasn’t particularly impressive, but the quality of the lamb was such that it didn’t matter.  (Note the addition of black truffles.)

lamb loin

lamb loin

The palate cleanser was a honeydew sorbet (for Jim) and a honeydew gelee that contained alcohol (for me).

honeydew sorbet

honeydew sorbet

honeydew gelee

honeydew gelee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We substituted the cheese dish for the liliokoi (passionfruit) and vanilla creamsicle, served with an anise coconut froth and macaroon crisp.  It was an excellent palate cleanser, and showed a light touch with dessert, something that isn’t always easily accomplished.

creamsicle

creamsicle

The final dessert was a chocolate cremeux with black sesame seed carmelized rice, orange meringue, hazelnet dragées, and butterscotch sauce.  The black truffles were perhaps unnecessary here, if, in fact, you can ever contemplate a time when black truffles are superfluous.

chocolate cremeux

chocolate cremeux

Overall, Chef Mavro showed a classical French training, high quality (and mostly local) ingredients, and an ability to adapt to local tastes and ingredients.  We were quite impressed and will certainly be back for more!  We highly recommend this restaurant and give the meal a solid A.

You can find out more at their website, www.chefmavro.com.